Historic mansions in Moscow open their doors for visitors

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Moscow mansion of General Alexey Petrovich Yermolov

This article was researched from Russian media sources and written by Paul Gilbert, Founder of Royal Russia © 2018

On the International Day of Culture (15th April), 150 historic buildings of Moscow opened their doors to the public. Among them, the mansion located at Ulitsa Prechistenka 20, the former residence of General Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov (1777-1861), which today houses the Main Department for Servicing the Diplomatic Corps (GlavUpDK) under the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Given that it is a government building, it is not open to visitors, but for Irina Razumovskaya (see video link at bottom of this article) they made an exception.

The mansion was built in the late 18th century by the Russian architect Matvey Feodorovich Kazakov (1738-1812), for Dr. Justus Christian Loder (1753-1812). Kazakov is famous for rebuilding the center of Moscow in the Palladian style during the reign of the Empress Catherine II.

In 1812, the house was badly damaged by fire. In its place the present two-story building was constructed. After the Patriotic War of 1812, the owner mansion was Countess Orlova (1741-1817). 

General Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov acquired the mansion in 1851. He collected a rich library in the house. The hero of the Great Patriotic War of 1812 lived in the mansion for 10 years until his death, in 1861. 

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Portrait of General Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov by Pyotr Zakharov-Chechenets (1843)

After Yermolov’s death, the mansion was acquired by Vladimir Dmitrievich Konshin (1824-1915), a nobleman, businessman, and Merchant of the 1st Guild. The new owner made a number of changes to the interior of the mansion: Yermolov’s library was lost, while the house acquired modern features of rococo and baroque, the facade was decorated with a rich decor with images of double-headed eagles, griffins, lion’s heads, oak and laurel branches. 

At the beginning of the 20th century, the mansion acquired by the family of the Russian millionaire industrialist Alexei Konstantinovich Ushkov (1879-1948). who had the building completely redone and became one of the most luxurious in the city, however the mansion lost many of its classic features. 

For his beloved wife, the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Theater Alexandra Mikhailovna Balashova (1887-1979), Ushkov built a mirrored hall for her classes. He also rooms designed in Pompeian, Roman and Moorish styles. The decoration of one of them was found by accident during the restoration of the building in the late 1990’s.

“There was an office space in the former mansion, all the walls were white. The ceiling was covered with boards and also painted white. Here four people worked, suddenly a lamp falls from the ceiling. After removal of the boards, we were surprised to discover a dome,” said Georgy Orlov, chief architect of GlavUpDK.

They also discovered a box in the hidden dome, which contained details of hidden oriental decor. Experts have established the author of this decoration – the famous architect Fyodor Osipovich Shekhtel (1859-1926). The doors here also concealed a secret. Before discarding the doors, the workers decided to sand them.  

“There were 20 layers of mastic. It was discovered, that hidden underneath these layers was gilding, and it became clear that the doors must be preserved and restored, “he added.

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Early 20th century photo of the Yermolov Mansion located at Ulitsa Prechistenka 20, Moscow

As noted above, the Main Department for Servicing the Diplomatic Corps of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently housed in the former Yermolov mansion. The department has in its charge – 150 mansions, many of which are monuments of architecture.

“Due to the fact that the embassies were located in many of them, they suffered the least damage during the Soviet period, but our organization is doing a great job of preserving these buildings, returning their historical appearance,” said Svetlana Chumikova, director of the Public Relations Department at GlavUpDK.

In 1917, the owner of the mansion on Ulitsa Prechistenka Alexei Ushkov emigrated with his wife to Paris. And from there came the new mistress of the house, the American dancer Isadora Duncan (1877-1927), who arranged a choreographic studio in the house.  

In this hall, where the most important diplomatic negotiations with the ambassadors of different countries are today, Duncan once taught the free dance to her pupils. In 1921, she was invited to live in Moscow, where the Soviet authorities gave her this mansion.

Isadora Duncan lived here with their husband the poet Sergei Yesenin, until their divorce in 1924. The building was passed to the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs in the 1930s, who preserved many of the mansions historic interiors and elements.

Click HERE to watch a video of a tour of the Yermolov Mansion, as it looks today.